The Zuma Mission A Test for Multilateral Diplomacy

Will the Nato coalition in Libya show deference to Jacob Zuma when Qaddafi appears on the ropes?

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 01:51

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma


The newspaper reports on the mediation efforts in Libya by South African President Jacob Zuma could be neatly broken down between newspapers appearing in countries calling for Qaddafi's ouster and those representing countries that abstained on the UN Security Council resolution authorizing humanitarian intervention in Libya.

If one reads the report in Xinhua, the Chinese News Agency, or the Indian press, then Qaddafi had agreed to the African Union roadmap. If one read the Western press, then Zuma's mediation efforts were a failure because he has not persuaded Qaddafi to leave Libya.

This is essentially how the coalition views a deal. The best they have to offer Qaddafi is lawyers who will defend him before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. With the defection of 5 Libyan generals and 115 other ranking officers,  the Russians apparently ready to cut their losses by declaring that Qaddafi has to go, and NATO introducing helicopters and bunker busting munitions, they feel that Qaddafi is on his last legs. The Zuma mission is at best a distraction and at worst an unwanted life preserver.

The West does not view the South African President as an honest broker, given the debts of his African National Congress to Qaddafi for the money he advanced them during their opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Zuma did appear to throw Qaddafi a lifeline. According to the South African leader, Qaddafi "confirmed that he's ready to implement the decision of the African Union. There must be a cease-fire, which is unconditional. That includes bombing by NATO coming to an end. A cease-fire must include everyone."

It will be interesting to watch the Obama administration react to Zuma. Jacob Zuma not only represents South Africa, but also the African Union and he is a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) block. Ideally the United States if it chose to stricltly adhere to a multilateral policy, would like regional organizations to police their territory, sparing the United States and NATO costly interventions.

These regional organizations, precisely because they are nonaligned, can offer a face-saving solution for the major powers in the same way that the United Nations was occasionally successful during the Cold War, if neither the United States nor the Soviet Union wanted to be engaged.

Claiming Qaddafi's scalp to go along with Osama bin Laden's may prove be too strong a temptation for the Obama administration. It could then go to the voters with proof that "smart power" works and that the United States had judiciously calibrated the use of force in Libya to secure the desired outcome.